The Federal Government has given hint as to the probable remote cause of the death of Mr. Joshua Okpo, who was Rector of the Maritime Academy of Nigeria (MAN) Oron, between 2011 and 2015.
Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi who dropped the hint last week at Oron during the commissioning of some projects under the academy’s new management said the late Rector died, sooner after he was informed of government’s intention to probe him over alleged misappropriation of N19billion in one year.
Amaechi reportedly lamented that gross mismanagement of the academy’s fund was responsible for its low level of development and projects abandoned by the Okpo.
The minister, who was visiting the academy for the first time, barely few weeks to the end of his four year’s tenure, however said nothing about the backlog of abandoned projects Okpo inherited. He did not also say how much it cost the present administration to complete the said abandoned projects.
Amaechi said the Chief Adebayo Sarumi led Interim Management Committee (IMC) constituted by him to reposition the academy in 2017 reported poor application of resources, poor academic environment and numerous abandoned projects, which it said militated against the growth and progress of the institution.
His words: “If you give me the money ,I will turn this place around and when I told him I will investigate him, two or three weeks later, he died. I don’t know what killed him but if he had been alive we would have looked at how he spent N19billion because there were uncompleted projects.”
The academy is funded by a 5% statutory allocation drawn from the total yearly earnings of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA). Also, the academy has been augmenting its scarce resources through internally generated revenue (IGR).
Before his death Okpo had denied collecting N19billion from NIMASA, and had challenged the latter on the matter. The Federal Ministry of Transportation in reaction, was believed to have promised to investigate the contentious fund, but never did.
Thus the Transportation Minister’s condemnation can justifiably be described as unfair and insensitive, given the backdrop of credible doubts that Okpo received the said amount of money from NIMASA. It is even more worrisome considering the fact that Amaechi choose to play politics with the money in question, not only for failing to act in conscious manner to foreclose the repeat of conflicts associated with the release of the fund, but also to determine between MAN and NIMASA who was telling the truth.
Since dead men don’t speak, we don’t expect Okpo to defend himself against Amaechi’s allegations and attacks.
Those whose business it is to know believe that Okpo was lured to create contracts for a wide range of stakeholders, for the boys, for aides, critical and uncooperative staff members, rapacious lawmakers at state and federal level, including host community minders and a long list of others, outside the tribe of official contractors.
Grapevine holds that the late rector was also drawn into other secondary contract negotiations, which involved granting of settlements just so to be able to secure timely release of the Academy’s statutory fund from NIMASA. Hints that Okpo and indeed his predecessors suffered some extent of blackmail into conceding special percentage of the fund before they are released, isn’t fairy tales.
Instructively, it can be concluded that these criminal kickbacks form part of the N19billion Amaechi and NIMASA makes no bones in hanging on the neck of late Okpo. The minister cannot deny having heard of the agonizing headmaster/servant relationship of MAN and NIMASA in view of the academy’s statutory allocation.
Okpo was said to have vehemently denied receiving the said amount during a ministerial briefing presided over by the Transportation Minister. He reportedly told the HMOT and those present at the meeting he got N13billion only. From the benefit of hindsight, it is probably more correct to insist that Okpo signed for the controversial figure but nevertheless, received N13billion.
The N6 billion differential no doubt makes up the ransom deduction Okpo paid under pressure and stupid desperation. The Transport Ministry cannot claim not to know that most kickbacks are now ingenuously managed and deducted at source. These were the hassling at the ministerial briefing that Amaechi failed to probe, despite his reported promise to do so.
Recall that the media after the ministerial meeting was awash with reports that Amaechi did order a probe, which he later denied. Then there was talk that NIMASA had sponsored the alleged threats of probe through the Lagos media in such a manner that ‘conclusively’ already found Okpo guilty, before the probe had even taken place.
While NIMASA had the ‘evidence’ for what Okpo collected, he had nothing but the pounding heart of a circumstantial felon. His protestation failed to move the committee’s Pontius Pilate, who walked away, not the least prepared to anger the economic Emperor.
At that period of accounting, Okpo must have discovered with unspeakable fright that he was alone, and have been deserted. The next few weeks following, he no doubt must have lived an anxious and worried life under the pressure of negative Lagos media campaign that came with an unprecedented intensity and unbridled editorial recklessness. Such media atmosphere isn’t a walk over game for persons with debilitating health issues.
Understandably, the fear of probe suddenly was perhaps too much for the jolly good man, and alone in his hotel room in Abuja, his worries probably soared, and Okpo’s heart ruptured, beyond timely human help.
He died under unfair public accusation and under unfair and repressive media campaign. At the risk of repetition, it was reported the HMOT denied ever ordering a probe, after the man died.
The self same minister last week, croaking under the power of executive arrogance, took back his earlier reported denial, and knocked Okpo down as a thief, and without batting an eyelid reportedly said Okpo was the reason MAN Oron has failed to develop.
Even though no one shed any tears for the late rector, it is time abandoned projects at the academy ‘speak’ for themselves, so that the truth can be known. That is the only way to appease Okpo’s memory.